This pilot study evaluated the thermoregulatory effects of respirator use on Rural Fire Service
(RFS) Volunteers completing a 9 stage obstacle course while wearing a disposable, half-face or
full-face respirator compared to no respirator.
An experimental study was conducted with 33 participants over the obstacle course designed to
simulate in-field activities. Core temperature was measured prior to, during and post each course
run while maximum heart rate and heart rate recovery were measured during and post each
course run. Participants self-evaluated relative perceived dyspnoea (RPD) post-course, and a
comfort and PPE compatibility questionnaire was completed for each respirator.
Core body temperature exceeded 38 ��C with and without a respirator, however there was no
statistically significant difference when wearing the different respirators compared to not wearing
a respirator; nor was there a significant difference in core body temperatures between the
respirator types (p > 0.05). There is thus a potential for heat-related illness regardless of whether
a respirator is worn.
Heart rate increased with the use of any of the three respirators compared with no respirator,
and more participants exceeded their sustained heart rate limit wearing a respirator during the
obstacle course run than without. However, there was no statistically significant difference in heart
rate recovery while wearing the different respirators as compared with not wearing a respirator.
Whilst some of the thermoregulatory outcomes are mixed, the RPD was significantly higher for
each of the three (3) respirator types when compared to no respirator which may lead to low wear
time or individuals removing their respirators in high-risk situations.
Further research is required during actual firefighting conditions with increased radiant thermal
load to evaluate the physiological effects of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) use on RFS
Volunteers and to inform the adoption of an RPE program.